by Darren M. McClellan
Some years ago, a man confessed to his pastor an occurrence in which his good intentions had gone awry.
This was his story: believing it was time for him to ‘step up’ his efforts as the spiritual leader of his household, the man decided to rededicate himself to the discipline of a standard devotional time. Ignoring, however, Jesus’ admonition to not make a spectacle of oneself in the interest of piety, the husband and father placed himself prominently in the big chair in the middle of the living room at an hour that was sure to warrant recognition from the rest of his family. How appropriate to let his light shine, he thought to himself.
Much to his dismay, no one seemed to notice on the first day of his new routine. Hoping for better results on day two, he brought additional commentaries and such and spread them across the coffee table. Previously convinced that his energetic children would cease their frivolous activities and be mysteriously drawn to sit at his feet, he was perturbed to watch them run and play, zooming past him time and again with no regard for his individual sanctity (or sanity). To make matters worse, his ungrateful children insisted on behaving like—well, children–which means that they were also loud and inconsiderate of the distraction they had become.
Clearly, his self-made sanctuary had made no impact whatsoever, other than contributing to his own disease. Those he had sought to impress continued their path of revelry, undaunted. Finally, with a fleeting breath of self-determination, the man slammed his Bible down on the table and shouted to his wife upstairs “Honey, will you get these kids out of my space? Can’t you see? I’m trying to do my damned devotional!”
It’s been nearly a decade since I had the privilege of being that man’s pastor, but his story stays with me. In the context of confession, my friend’s transparency not only reveals the delicacy of Christian witness, but also leads me to reevaluate the methods and motives of the church in our attempts as salt and light. For instance, how many times has the church been shocked to discover that the community which surrounds them is not naturally inclined to stop and see what’s going on with the most stationary figure in the room?
I once had a church trustee tell me that their plan to engage more young people in worship was to trim up the azalea bushes in front of the sanctuary. Really? I don’t mean to underestimate the importance of pruning, or the appeal of creation, but I had my doubts about the sufficiency of maintenance as the sole strategy for mission.
What would have happened if the church chose to set aside its oblivious narcissism long enough to lovingly investigate the lives of those whom he was trying to reach? How can one say, hey neighbor, keep it down will you? I’m trying to work on my relationship with Jesus.
A damned devotional…indeed!
At times we are prone to forget that there are two planes that comprise the cross of Jesus Christ. One vertical. One horizontal.
In the preface to the Hymns and Sacred Poems of 1739, John Wesley offered this critique:
“The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness…’This commandment have we from Christ, that he who loves God, loves his brother also;’ and that we manifest our love ‘by doing good to unto all…especially to them that are of the household of faith.”
Fortunately, my wise friend gets it now. Children are going to run in all sorts of directions. The question is, who will get off their throne and run with them?